She traded time with friends for extra time at the gym. She would wake up in the middle of the night with a cramping, starved stomach, counting the hours until breakfast.

She stopped reading magazines and watching TV because they only provoked a cycle of mocking thoughts that slowly ate away at her own self-esteem; food was the only thing she felt she could control.

For Amy Maitner, a junior advertising and public relations major, the media was not necessarily a cause, but a trigger for her negative body image and eating disorder.

"Those negative perceptions of your body are kind of normalized," said Maitner, president of Project HEAL, a student organization at UCF that aims to provide support for students with eating disorders.

Maitner's own recovery from orthorexia — which literally means "fixation on righteous eating" — left her with a passion for helping other students recover.

"People think it's normal to not like how they look, and it's normal to look at photoshopped movie stars and celebrities and think that's real," Maitner said.

To combat those unrealistic bodily expectations, an alternative magazine called Darling Magazine has swept the stands in an effort to inspire women and girls to accept and appreciate their identities.

Darling Magazine's website is organized through categories such as dreamer, beautician and intellectual — sections that feature articles on topics including steps in self-love, travel philosophies, dessert recipes and interior design. Photographs of women in the magazine are not retouched, said Kyle Wood, Darling Magazine public relations coordinator.

"So often today women are bombarded with images, messages, ideas that they need to buy a certain thing, look a certain way, do a certain act to be considered beautiful," Wood said in an email. "We wanted to create a magazine that provided women with content that carried more substance — something that encourages and uplifts women, instead of making them feel like they are constantly inadequate."

Michelle Chen, a junior psychology major, struggled with bulimia during her freshman year of college. She said she didn't look at magazines very often — looking at them would only make her feel worse about herself.

As a student of Taiwanese descent, Chen said she never felt she could relate to the images in magazines.

"I'm not white, so I never really saw myself [in those magazines] because their body types are really different from Asian body types," Chen said. "I knew I would never look like a white girl."

Maria Santana, a professor and a director of the UCF Women's Studies program, facilitates a mentoring program for middle school-aged girls, and said she has witnessed teenage girls expressing insecurities because of having darker skin or natural curls — insecurities which carry on to college years.

"In general, we have a definition of beauty in our community that is very much secluded — thin, no curves, and in reality most women do not follow that description," Santana said. "Beauty comes in all kinds of packages — imagine having the same box."

Santana said that while she does acknowledge Darling Magazine's effort to present women's bodies more realistically, changing unrealistic representations of male and female bodies goes beyond the media: it starts with one's wallet.

"You have the power of consumption," said Santana, who holds a Ph.D. in mass communication. "If the pressure comes from consumers, the product will change … activism is well and alive. If we don't do that, we're force-fed all the images."

Maitner hopes to use her studies in the communications field to help guide the media industry to more positive and realistic bodily representations — and to help girls and women embrace who they are.

"You can't fully love someone until you love yourself," Maitner said.


Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_ or email her at

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